Rocky Terrain Slows Construction in Afghanistan Building up Afghanistan has been a main goal since U.S.-led forces defeated the Taliban six years ago. But construction is inching along at best. Not necessarily because of insurgents, but because of topography.
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Rocky Terrain Slows Construction in Afghanistan

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Rocky Terrain Slows Construction in Afghanistan

Rocky Terrain Slows Construction in Afghanistan

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Let's go next to Afghanistan, where lasting progress can be hard to find. It's been six years since the fall of the Taliban, and reconstruction is described as slow at best. Projects like a paved road to link the country's provinces are far from complete, despite billions of construction dollars pouring into Afghanistan year after year from three dozen nations. Growing insecurity caused by insurgents is partly to blame, but only partly.

As NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson discovered in northeastern Badakhshan province, terrain and tradition are often greater obstacles.

(Soundbite of shoveling gravel)

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Dusty Afghan villagers using shovels and pickaxes are turning this tiny mountain trail into a rare road linking the northern and southern parts of the Badakhshan province.

It's a painfully slow process. The men beat at the mountain to widen the trail into a single-lane road made of rocks and dirt. Debris is flung some 600 feet below into the riverbed. A stubborn outcrop is dealt with more forcefully, using dynamite provided by the German team supervising the project.

(Soundbite of explosion)

Mr. JOERG YODER (Manager, GTZ): They drill the holes like half a meter deep, and send the plastic bags with dynamite powder, and they push it in with a wooden stick.

NELSON: That's Joerg Yoder. He oversees this 10-month-old project that costs a half a million dollars and will eventually stretch six miles. Yoder admits the new road will be a far cry from any Autobahn back home. But Abdul Rahzed Rohani, the crew foreman, says the road is a lifesaver for his village.

Mr. ABDUL RAHZED ROHANI (Foreman): (Persian spoken)

NELSON: Rohani says trucks will use the road to supply villages like Farghambol year round. He adds the $3 each of his workers earns daily is a small fortune by local standards. Thomas Zahneisen, the civilian in charge of the German provincial reconstruction team.

Mr. THOMAS ZAHNEISEN (Civilian): It's just so little what is here, and you really have to do so many things just to get development started. Yeah, you really have to start from scratch here. Nothing has ever been done here.

NELSON: This project is like most across Badakhshan - an unpaved road, a well, a small bridge - all modest by Western standards, but vitally in important to the inhabitance of the this mountainous region. That's because the nearly one million Afghans here live pretty much like their ancestors did centuries ago. Many families live in mud homes without electricity or running water or cars. They spend half the year growing food for themselves and their livestock so they can survive the other half of the year when they are socked in by snow.

Yoder is a program advisor for GTZ, a state-run, German development company, said it's impossible to meet Western expectations of how fast development should happen, let alone to alone to get villagers to follow standard business practices.

Mr. YODER: We will not be able to shape Afghanistan according to our wishes. That is one of the principal problems here. It's still an oral culture. Many people do not know how to write and read, and it is a very slow, step-by-step process to introduce a requirement, like an official bill.

NELSON: Afghans, too, are frustrated with the slow pace of reconstruction, like villagers in Yawan not far from the border with the former Soviet republic of Tajikistan. When Yoder and colleague Marina Kielpinski come here, the local police chief does something unthinkable by Afghan standards of hospitality. He launches into a tirade over a badly needed bridge before greeting the visitors with steaming cups of green tea.

Chief NAJIBULLAH (Chief of Police): (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: Police Chief Najibullah quickly apologizes. He says he's upset. He worries a 90-foot bridge proposed for Yawan's river won't be done before the weather turns bad. The bridge will connect seven northern districts with the rest of the province. Najibullah says it will also save Yawan's children and livestock from drowning, as sometimes happens here.

Kielpinski reminds the chief that while the Czechs and Germans are paying some $90,000 for the project, it's up to the villagers to build the bridge.

Ms. MARINA KIELPINSKI: The most important thing now is to select exactly the right place to start excavation, and they can start now. The money is here and the project is ready to move forward, but only the people who live here can tell us exactly where the water rises and how it will be in springtime.

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Man #2: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: The village elders and German team eventually head to the river. Soon, everyone agrees on a spot. The German team says that with a little luck and local elbow grease, the bridge could be ready by winter.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News in Badakhshan.

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